Since I was short, I was standing on my tiptoes, leaning up to him as if I were about to kiss him. Somewhere in the back of my mind I thought that would be a very good course of action right about now.
“Satisfied?” Finn asked. I retracted my hand and took a step back. “There should be hair products in your bathroom. Experiment.”
I nodded my compliance, still too flustered to speak. Finn was unnaturally calm, and at times like that, I really hated how aloof he could be. I barely even remembered to breathe until I was in my bathroom.
Being that near to him made me forget everything but his dark eyes, the heat from his skin, his wonderful scent, the feel of his hair beneath my fingers, the smooth curve of his lips . . .
I shook my head, clearing it of any thoughts of him. That had to be the end of that.
I had a dinner tonight to worry about, and somehow I had to do something with my hair. I tried to remember what Maggie had used in my hair before I went to the dance, but that felt like a lifetime ago.
Thankfully, my hair magically decided to behave itself tonight, making the whole process go easier. Finn seemed to think my hair looked better down, so I left the length of it hanging in the back and pulled the sides back with clips. To top off the ensemble, I got a diamond necklace from my jewelry box.
The dress turned out to be trickier than my hair. It had one of those stupid zippers that refused to move higher than my lower back, and no matter how I contorted myself, I couldn’t win. After struggling with it so long my fingers hurt, I had to get help.
Tentatively, I pushed open the bathroom door. Finn had been looking out the window at the sun setting over the bluffs. When he turned, his eyes rested on me for a full minute before he finally spoke.
“You look like a Princess,” he said with a crooked smile.
“I need help with the zipper,” I said meekly, gesturing to the open slit down my back.
He walked over, and it was almost a relief to have my back to him. The way he looked at me made my stomach swirl with nervous butterflies. One of his hands pressed warmly on my bare shoulder to steady the fabric as he zipped me up, and I shivered involuntarily.
When he had finished, I went over to the mirror to investigate for myself. Even I had to admit that I looked lovely. With the white dress and the diamond necklace, I almost looked too lavish. Maybe it was too much for just a dinner.
“I look like I’m getting married,” I commented and glanced back at Finn. “Do you think I should change?”
“No, it’s perfect.” He looked pensively at me, and if I didn’t know better, I’d say he looked almost sad. The doorbell chimed loudly, and Finn nodded. “The guests have arrived. We should greet them.”
We walked down the hall together, but at the top of the stairs, Finn deliberately fell a few steps behind me. Elora and three people I guessed were the Kroners were standing in the alcove as I descended the stairs, and they all turned to look up at me. It was the first grand entrance I had ever made in my life, and there was something wonderful about it.
The Kroners consisted of a stunningly beautiful woman in a floor-length dark green dress, an attractive man in a dark suit, and an attractive boy about my age. Even Elora looked more extravagant than usual. Her dress had more detailing and her jewelry was more pronounced.
I could feel them appraising me as I walked toward them, so I was careful to keep my steps as smooth and elegant as possible.
“This is my daughter, the Princess.” Elora smiled in a way that almost looked loving and held her hand out to me. “Princess, these are the Kroners. Aurora, Noah, and Tove.”
I smiled politely and did a small curtsy. Immediately after, I realized that they were probably the ones who should be curtsying to me, but they all continued to smile pleasantly at me.
“It’s such a pleasure to meet you.” Aurora’s words had a syrupy tone that made me wonder whether or not I should trust her. A few dark curls fell artfully from her elegant updo, and her chestnut eyes were large and stunning.
Her husband, Noah, gave me a small bow, as did her son, Tove. Both Noah and Aurora looked appropriately respectful, while Tove looked vaguely bored. His mossy green eyes met mine very briefly, then darted away, as if eye contact made him uncomfortable.
Elora ushered us into the sitting parlor to talk until supper. The conversation was overly polite and banal, but I suspected there were undercurrents that I didn’t fully understand. Elora and Aurora did most of the talking, with Noah adding very little. Tove said nothing at all, preferring to look anywhere but directly at anyone.
Finn was more in the background, speaking only when spoken to. He was poised and polite, but from the disdainful way Aurora looked at him, I gathered she didn’t approve of his presence.
The Stroms were fashionably late, as Finn had predicted they would be. He’d briefed me extensively on both them and the Kroners earlier in the day, but he was much more familiar with the Stroms and talked of them in much more affectionate tones.
Finn had been a tracker for Willa, so he knew her and her father, Garrett, quite well. Garrett’s wife (Willa’s mother) had died some years earlier. Finn claimed that Garrett was easygoing, but that Willa was a tad high-strung. She was twenty-one, and prior to living in Förening, she’d been privileged to the point of excess.
When the doorbell rang, interrupting the irritatingly dull conversation between Aurora and my mother, Finn immediately excused himself to answer the door and returned with Garrett and Willa in tow.
Garrett was a rather handsome man in his mid-forties. His hair was dark and disheveled, making me feel better about my own imperfect hair. When he shook my hand with a warm smile, he immediately put me at ease.
Willa, on the other hand, had that snobby look as if she were simultaneously bored and pissed off. She was a waif of a girl with light brown waves that fell neatly down her back, and she wore an anklet covered in diamonds. When she shook my hand, I could tell that her smile was at least sincere, making me hate her a little less.
Now that they had arrived, we adjourned to the dining room for supper. Willa attempted to engage Tove in conversation as we walked into the other room, but he remained completely silent.
Finn pulled my chair out for me before I sat down, and I enjoyed it since I couldn’t remember a single time that anyone had ever done that for me. He waited until everyone was sitting before taking a seat himself, and this deference would be the standard for the evening.
As long as at least one person was standing, so would Finn. He was always the first to his feet, and even though the chef and a butler were on staff tonight, Finn would offer to get anyone anything they needed.